New Haven Lab Is an Architectural Experiment
(7/29/2010) (from The Wall Street Journal)
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Laboratories don't usually stand out as works of architecture; most are tucked out of sight. The new Park Street Clinical Laboratory in New Haven, however, is something else entirely—a building that not only aids medical diagnoses but is a quite visible attempt to heal longstanding physical and psychological rifts in the surrounding community.
The latest addition to the Yale-New Haven Hospital complex—one of the most respected and heavily used medical campuses in the country—the six-story Park Street building was privately developed by Fusco Corp. and leased to the hospital. It is one of three close-knit structures in a $627 million expansion, including the Smilow Cancer Hospital that opened last fall and a garage plus apartment building for patients' families completed in January. The lab's randomly checkered façade of gray panels and yellow, orange, white and clear glass is designed to glow day and night as a beacon on the western edge of the medical campus looking toward downtown New Haven. Wedged between the gargantuan, 9,000-car public Air Rights Garage and the new hospital across the street, it is also the entry portal for 1,000 or more cancer patients arriving by car each day for treatments.
The building bridges the notorious Oak Street Connector, or Route 34, an urban-planning fiasco so disruptive that it is studied in architecture and urban-planning schools for the way it sundered an entire neighborhood from the city. (Some 600 families and 65 businesses were displaced when it was built in 1959 but never completed.) For years, a wary local community stalled the new complex, demanding, among other things, that the new cancer center include retail and public spaces at street level. The Smilow hospital could not spare the room—a breast-cancer clinic is in the lobby. But the Park Street lab does feature an atrium open to the public, and space for retail shops and restaurants with street access has been allocated, though not yet leased. The privately owned building will also contribute more than $1.1 million in taxes to New Haven.
It's all a demanding to-do list for a clinical lab where some five million tests a year will be conducted. And it is a credit to Behnisch Arckitekten of Stuttgart and the local firm Svigals + Partners that their collaboration worked as well as it has. (Lab interiors were outfitted by Karlsberger, an Ohio-based health-care specialist.)
Behnisch is known for its structurally sophisticated designs—from Genzyme's Cambridge, Mass., headquarters to the $1 billion Allston Science Complex for Harvard (currently on hold). Svigals + Partners has been involved in some 200 projects for Yale-New Haven Hospital, according to Barry Svigals, the firm's founder.
Mr. Svigals said that he saw the job as providing for "the sustainability of the human spirit" by turning "technical issues to human issues." The three-story atrium soars—whether you enter at an upper-level link between parking garage and hospital or from the street. The multicolor glow outside continues on the interior, but it is slightly muted by cool grays and clean, white piping. Floors of endgrain wood blocks for a softer tread, slatted wooden screens and wood stairs all made from old-growth Douglas fir—recycled from barns—translate into a cheery sense of welcome.
Then there are the staircases—long and short, wide and narrow—arranged in a kind of peppy Piranesian spirit. They negotiate a dizzying number of level changes between the parking garage, the labs and the hospital, each with different floor heights. Visitors coming from the garage enter the lab building between levels two and three and then take a stairway or elevator to the hospital's fourth floor.
The labs themselves start at the third floor and rise to the sixth, where a balcony cafeteria has a prime view over the atrium. Below street level, delivery trucks drive directly from Connector 34 into the building's loading docks. Pharmacies and offices on the underground level are enlivened with planters for trees that poke up through light wells into the lobby.
It's all exceedingly dynamic—perhaps overwhelmingly so for patients exhausted by treatments as they head by stairs or elevator to the bridge connector to Smilow. Mr. Svigals hopes not: "We were very concerned about the transfer from parking to hospital for patients under such stressful circumstances and we wanted them to breathe in another experience."
Considering the site was a 25-foot hole in the ground for decades, the Park Street Clinical Laboratory is an entirely new and welcome experience for New Haven. "What had been a gash in the city is now a stepping stone," Mr. Svigals said. "It shows the hospital extending a hand to the community."
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